Benefit Claimants in Government’s Firing Line

December 5, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Single parents and those on incapacity benefits are due to suffer as a result of government rule changes. From now they will be transferred from Income Support to Job Seeker’s Allowance. They will have to show they are ‘genuinely seeking work.’ If not, their benefits could be cut by up to 40%. This is workfare on the way.

This boot camp approach to claimants is being wheeled out just as the government’s own figures show there are 1.8 million people already out of work. This policy is not just brutal, it is also bonkers. What is the point of forcing people to find jobs when there are no jobs to find?

It is surely a basic principle of any civilised society that those who need help are entitled to get it. It is basic decency that people who are made to work should at least be paid the minimum wage, not left on dole levels of support.

The government is waving the big stick at the most vulnerable people in our society. Lone parents with children over the age of 12 will be affected right away. In 2009 the rule change will be extended to those with children over the age of 10. And in 2010 all those with kids over 7 will be hit.

At present 30% of single parents stay at home – but in a quarter of these cases they are looking after a disabled child, according to the National Council for One Parent Families. So what are they supposed to do? Children of 12 and over are at an important turning point in their lives. At this time of growing up, parents feel they need to invest some care and time in their children. Most single parents would also like to go out to work. They need the money and it gives them some sort of social life. But they need a flexible approach from employers and, in all too many cases, they don’t get it. The other problem, of course, is that child care is much too expensive for people who are struggling financially.

The government has a target for cutting child poverty. It’s not going to get there in time. The result of this policy will be to throw the drive to end child poverty back even further. In effect they’re tearing up the targets.

Sir Richard Tilt, Chair of the Social Security Advisory Council, is deeply unhappy about the proposals. He says they could push people “much closer to poverty”. He goes on, “Of course, the child will suffer, but it’s not the child that has fallen foul of the system.” He adds that there was often a reason that the lone parent was staying at home. “It may be to do with disability or chronic illness, or in some cases it may be to do with behavioural problems,”

There are also 2.6 million people on Incapacity Benefit. Every one of them has been signed off by a doctor. So why are they being hounded? Ill and disabled people also want to work, not sit around at home being told by the government that they’re useless and staying poor. But they need carefully crafted help to get back into the labour force. In most instances they will also need to be trained in new skills. And in too many cases this is not forthcoming.

The trade unions are quite right to call for measures to challenge discriminatory attitudes held by employers and call for flexible working practices to be encouraged. But that’s not the whole answer. These people are just at the bottom of the heap as far as capitalism is concerned. As long as there’s mass unemployment, and that means as long as capitalism exists, they will be the first out of the workplace door and the last back in.

Whose fault is it that unemployment is spreading – probably 3 million by 2010? Whose fault is it that child care is unaffordable? Not the parents. And who is going to get it in the neck from the government’s move to compulsion? The kids and the sick and disabled, of course. This is an absolute disgrace.

Do you think Purnell and the rest of New Labour thought about this when they rammed through the new rules? All they were interested in was out-Torying the Tories. The Tories and New Labour are competing as to who can make the lives of poor people more difficult.

But the government doesn’t always act the hard man with benefit claimants. Over the weekend we learned that they were doling out an extra £2.5bn to RBS, owing to a failed cash call on its shareholders. This is on top of £20bn we’ve already shoveled down their maw. The banks are the real dole fiddlers. It’s high time to take them over as part of a socialist plan to eliminate unemployment instead of punishing the poor.

This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.

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This post was written by Fred McDowell

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